Fifteen years ago

 

Fifteen years ago I did something I never expected to do in my life. I married Brian. Some girls dream of their wedding day, but I was not one of those girls. I knew that Brian was the one that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. But the whole pomps and circumstances that surround a wedding was not for me. The dress, the ring, the flowers – I could do without it all.

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This is a portrait of us that our friend Gabby made for us. She gave it to us at our rehearsal dinner.

But despite all of that; yes. We got engaged, and yes…we somewhat planned a wedding. Truth is our family did the majority of it all as they were terribly afraid that if they didn’t our wedding would never happen. And quite possibly it would not have. About two months before our wedding day (6-2-01) I was sitting in our apartment packing boxes as we were in the mist of moving into a home we just purchased. Brian and I were talking about little wedding details our parents were hounding us on when all of a sudden I felt like a huge hypocrite. I looked at him and said…”What are we doing? Why are we going through all of this? I never wanted any of this. All of this for one day is a bit insane. I cannot stand it.” The look that came over Brian’s face was pure terror. He was baffled and speechless for a moment and finally responded with, “Are you really saying you don’t want to get married now?!?”

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And just like that I knew I had to swallow my pride. I might have never fantasized about this one day, yet there was a part of Brian that did. I knew it right then and there. It was time for me to close my mouth and let the whole wedding ordeal take place. When all was said and done, it really was not that bad of a day. It was actually fun and I understood Brian’s point of view. It was possibly the one time when all of our family and friends were in one place just for us. They witnessed and celebrated us doing the one thing I said I would never do. I married the love of my life, my best friend, and the only one who I tell all my secrets and dreams to. By finally going through the whole wedding day I have one more special day of memories with him to share and that alone was worth it.

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So, for our fifteenth wedding anniversary I will recreate the first meal I ever cooked for Brian. One of the most simple pasta dishes there is. It has olives, capers, and bit of crushed red pepper flakes for some kick – Pasta Puttanesca. Brian loves it and always comments on the fact of when I said I was making dinner that evening for him (many, many years ago) he questioned where the jars of sauce were kept? He was quickly impressed when he learned I was making it from scratch…I hope after all this time I continue to impress him like that. Happy Anniversary Brian, thank you for putting up with me all these years! Thank you for the memories of our special day.

image4 Pasta Puttanesca (feeds 2 +)

**NOTES: I personally like the oil cured olives in this dish. (Those are the black wrinkly ones.) if you cannot find them feel free to use something like a Kalamata. Also, If you cannot find strained tomatoes, you can puree some whole ones in a can, at least 1 1/2 cups worth.

1 cup oil cured olives, pitted and roughly chopped

1 tbsp capers, drained

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

pinch of dried oregano

3 tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 cup strained tomatoes

sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

1/3 pound penne rigate pasta

Parmesan Cheese, for serving

First, place a large pot filled with salted water over high heat. Meanwhile, place a large sauce pan over medium heat. Once heated through add you olive oil and warm it up. To this you will add your crushed red pepper, olives, oregano, and garlic. Stir it all together and watch it carefully as you do not want to burn your garlic.

Next, once your garlic is fragrant (about one minute) add your tomatoes and about 1/2 cup of water. Stir it well and let it come to a simmer. Once simmering you can add your capers to your tomato mixture.Let it simmer gently…you may need to lower your heat a bit.

Then, when your pot of water should come to a boil add in your pasta. Stir it well, and cook it for as long as is indicated on the box, stirring it frequently. Once your pasta is done cooking strain it well.

Finally, add your pasta to your tomato sauce. Toss it well, while still simmering. Season it with sea salt and fresh black pepper and serve it with freshly grated parmesan.

 

 

Coconut Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

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Cake! Cake! Cake! Cake! Cake! Coconut Cake that is. I have been occupied with many other things lately. One of them being my parents were visiting for a while. We had a very impromptu dinner one evening. While I had no dessert planned, being it was so last minute, I walked over to a local bakery and purchased one of their famous coconut cream pies with confidence that my family would enjoy it.

Did they like it? Yes. Actually, they loved it. While they all enjoyed bite after bite, all I could think about was that coconut cake I made. A very moist coconut cake, layered with cream cheese icing, and sprinkled with sweetened shredded coconut. The coconut cake I promised in my last entry here that I would tell you all about and pass along the recipe. At that moment the cake was dominating my mind and I was racked with guilt for not getting to this point sooner to tell you all about Coconut Cake!!!

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Now, I have made many cakes in my day and I have tried a few different recipes for coconut ones. In all my trials, and taste testing of cakes I was never truly satisfied. There was a part of me that knew it could be better. So one day a dragged out all the recipes I previously tried. I looked them over carefully comparing each of them. I jotted down my notes on it all and then formed this recipe. Headed into the kitchen, mixed up my cake and baked it off. I let the cake cool overnight, and the following day I fitted it with all it’s fixings. When the cake was complete we sliced away and served it up. We had one slice of layered coconut cake a piece and enjoyed it with tea. To be extra sure of this recipe we each indulged in another slice. That second one we both agreed was as good as the first.

I cut the remaining cake in half and wrapped each half up. We each took a half with us to work the following day. My fellow cooks in the kitchen were very gracious in their compliments. and it was gone before the morning shift was in full swing. Brian said his half was quickly gone at his office and some asked for the recipe. This is usually the gratification I need when testing a recipe. It is one thing for you to be satisfied with something you make, but it is a whole other thing when fellow cooks are fighting over the last little piece. When more than one person asks you for the recipe you know its great! I guess you can say I am now satisfied with my coconut cake recipe. I just wish I had some to serve my family in place of that coconut cream pie. I guess there is always next time.

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Coconut Cake with Cream Cheese Icing (makes one 8 – 9 inch cake, feeds 12+)

Cake

12 oz (1 1/2 cups) coconut oil, at room temperature

2 cups sugar

5 eggs

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 tsp almond extract

2 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4 cup coconut milk

First, preheat your oven to 325 degrees. In a bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, place your coconut oil and sugar. Mix together until fluffy and well combined. Add your eggs one at a time, be sure each one is well mixed in and scrape down the bowl with a spatula in-between each addition. Once eggs are added stir in your extracts.

Next, in a bowl place your flour, shredded coconut, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk it together. Add this mixture in thirds, alternating it with your coconut milk. You want to slowly combine your flour mix it to your egg mixture, once all is combined add the coconut milk and combine. Repeat this until all your batter is well combined.

Then, prepare your 8 – 9 inch baking pan. I like to brush the pan down with oil and line the bottom of your pan with parchment paper. Sprinkle a bit of flour along the sides of the pan tapping out the excess. Pour your batter into the prepared pan smoothing out the top. Place in the center of your oven and bake about an hour (rotating it half way though). Remove from the oven when a knife is inserted into the center of the cake and tests cleanly.

Finally, you can eat the cake as is if you like, but it is best to allow the cake to cool to room temperature before wrapping the cake in plastic and placing the cake in the refrigerator overnight. Chilling the cake like this allows the cake to pop out of the pan cleanly and slice neatly for filling and icing.

Cream Cheese Icing (more than enough for one cake)

1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature

8 oz butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 pounds of powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

Coconut milk or regular milk as needed

First, place your cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on a medium speed until it is well combined. You can stir in the extract at this time.

Then, on a very low speed, slowly add the powdered sugar until all is combined and fluffy. Add a bit of coconut or regular milk (a tablespoon at a time) until you achieve the smoothing, spreadability you desire. Set aside to assemble.

Cake Assembly 

1 Coconut Cake (recipe above)

1 batch of Cream Cheese Icing, at room temperature (recipe above)

2 cups (plus more if needed) of sweetened shredded coconut

Fresh Flowers (optional)

First, remove your cake from the pan and peel away the parchment paper. Carefully slice the cake horizontally into three even pieces.

Next, place the bottom layer of your cake onto your serving plate. Scoop a portion of your cream cheese icing onto it and evenly spread it out to the edges. Top your icing with the next layer of cake and repeat. You will end up with three layers of cake and two layers of cream cheese icing.

Then, gently spread the top and sides of your cake with the remaining cream cheese icing. Be sure to coat the cake evenly and as smoothly as possible. (It is okay if you so not use all of your cream cheese icing.)

Finally, wipe your plate clean of any cake crumbs or icing that may have dripped. Gently, with your hands, scoop the sweetened shredded coconut onto the cake lightly pressing it into the icing to stick. Continue this until the whole cake is coated. You can serve it like this if you wish. If you desire you can also top the cake with fresh flowers as you feel fit. I like to use a bit of the left over icing to help hold the flowers in place. Serve the cake at room temperature. Can be refrigerated and stored up to four days.

 

Garbanzo Bean Salad

Hello there. It has been a while, hasn’t it? I’m sorry it has taken a while to get back around to here. There is no excuse really. I have been doing lots of cooking, experimenting, and baking in my kitchen. With all of that I have had no time to sit with my computer and tell you all about it.

The other week I was so gung ho to write you about a cake I made….and within minutes I was asleep on the couch with the computer on my lap. I had gone to a Zumba class earlier that evening, I guess you can say it took all my energy. But I will write you about the cake next time. No cake today. Today I want to tell you about a garbanzo bean salad.

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I know you are probably questioning how I went from cake to salad??? Maybe that Zumba class is to blame? Something healthy verses sugar and sweetness!?! Healthy or not this salad is delicious and that is what counts in my book. A garbanzo bean salad is great to whip up on these warm spring days. Tossed together without much fuss, devoured in minutes, and satisfying to your taste buds. The beauty of a salad like this one is that it can be made ahead of time. It develops more flavor as it sits together, and it is one of those things that can be doubled easily and be brought to a BBQ or picnic and holds up to warmer temperatures.

I have been making a salad similar to this since I was in my teens. I use to have a subscription to a teen magazine when I was young. I cannot remember if it was YM or Seventeen; either way, and not surprisingly, my favorite part of the magazine were the recipes they sometimes featured in the back of it. There was a recipe for a garbanzo bean salad that I showed to my mom and we made it. My family loved it and it became a family staple in the warmer months. Over time, like most recipes, I have tweaked it a bit. What can I say? Time, like taste buds, change. Below is the way I enjoy it the best. The different textures, favors, and light dressing will compliment just about any meal. I hope you give it a try. In the meantime I will get back into a grove of writing…I promise, that cake recipe will be up next time.

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Garbanzo Bean Salad (feeds 4-6)

1 (15oz) can of Garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1 red bell pepper, chopped small (seeds and core removed)

1/2 cup red onion, chopped small

1 ball fresh mozzarella, cubed small

1 1/2 cup chopped romaine lettuce

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

First, place your garbanzos, bell pepper, red onion, and mozzarella in your serving dish. Sprinkle your olive oil and red wine vinegar over it all and toss it well. Sprinkle it all with a bit of sea salt and black pepper and toss again. Cover with some plastic wrap and chill at least and hour. You are looking for the flavors to mingle and marinate a bit together.

Next, remove your salad from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before eating. Sprinkle the lettuce over it all. Toss again and set aside until ready to eat.

Finally, before eating, season it again with sea salt and fresh black pepper if needed.

 

Sweet Potato Pancakes

It is not uncommon for me to keep a few russet or sweet potatoes around for an easy dinner. Toss them in the oven to bake, serve them with a large salad and dinner is done! Not a lot of fuss, besides the fact that we find it really comforting to eat. We truly enjoy it and look forward to it’s simplicity.

I personally prefer a sweet potato over that of a russet. I love the taste and texture of one when it has been roasted whole. But did you know that a sweet potato has loads of heath benefits in them? Sweet potatoes are extremely high in vitamins and minerals! They contribute to healthier immune systems and contain high levels of magnesium – this supports anti stress while aiding in relaxation…Yes! I will take that any given day. Who wouldn’t want added vitamins and reduced stress by eating something delicious?

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The other night I baked the sweet potatoes we had for dinner, and as luck should have it we had one left over. I wrapped and placed it in the refrigerator with the thoughts of enjoying the left over for lunch one day that week. But then I remembered a place we use to go to for brunch many years ago. On their menu: Sweet Potato Pancakes! I loved them, and when I really felt like indulging I would order them. They were light and fluffy pancakes, not too sweet; and were ultimately satisfying. I had to make something like them for breakfast. I missed those pancakes and it was the perfect use for my left over sweet potato.

Early on my morning off I headed into my kitchen. I mashed the sweet potato, made a batter that incorporated it, and gently sizzled the batter in a bit of butter and oil. I find that the combo of butter and oil lets the pancakes get a nice sear without the any scorching or burning the pancakes themselves. I also found that these pancakes need a moment or two longer cooking because the batter is so moist. In doing this it lets them firm up more as they simmer allowing the pancake set up…the first two I cooked off had a bit “custard quality” that I don’t really look for when desiring something like a pancake. But once they were finally done cooking we piled them on our plates topping them with butter and real maple syrup. I kid you not when I tell you we nibbled away and enjoyed every bit. The Sweet Potato Pancakes were indulgent and lightly sweet. They were light, with a bit of crunch along their edges. They made the perfect breakfast as far as I am concerned. Being that they were so easy to whip up and how healthy a sweet potato is these pancakes might be dangerous, I can all to easily see us indulging in them all too often! Yum!

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Sweet Potato Pancakes (serves 4)

1 1/2 cups mashed skinless sweet potato (previously baked or boiled)

1 oz butter, melted (plus extra for cooking and serving)

3/4 cup greek yogurt

1/4 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg, beaten

1 cup flour

1 tbsp sugar

1/4 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp sea salt

real maple syrup (for serving)

vegetable oil

First; in a bowl whisk together your milk, yogurt, vanilla extract, egg, and melted butter. In a separate bowl mix together your flour, baking soda, baking powder, sea salt, and sugar.

Next; whisk in your mashed sweet potato into your yogurt mix. Mix until it is smooth and evenly incorporated. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the sweet potato mix and easily mix it together until the mixture is cohesive.

Then; place a large frying pan or non stick pan (your preference) over medium heat. Place a bit of butter and no more than 2 tbsp of oil into the pan and heat through until butter is melted into the oil. Spoon or ladle your sweet potato mixture into the prepared pan. Gently edge the batter to spread evenly into a round shape to form your pancake. You can place a few pancakes at a time into your pan, be carful not to crowd the pan leaving about a 1-2 inch border around them. Once the edges of the pancakes seem firm and the batter seems to bubble around the edges easily flip the pancake with a spatula and let the pancakes sear and simmer on the other side.

Finally; when the pancakes are seared and firm on both sides you can remove them and place them on a plate to rest until serving. Repeat with the remaining batter. Be sure that there is always a bit of butter and oil in the pan while adding your pancake batter. Serve when pancakes are done cooking with plenty of butter and maple syrup.

 

Spring Herb Sugar Snap Peas

Spring is here. As I write I am sitting in a sun beam from my living room window. It feels so good to have sunlight warming my skin. As much as I love a cozy sweater and blanket, I aspire for warm afternoon rays and no jackets needed. All this warmth and spring feels like a dish of sugar snap peas I made just last week. When I passed by the market on my way home after work the salesman pointed out to me that the sugar snap peas were just in. At one glance I could see that they were plump and their skin had that new green vibrancy about them that you naturally only see about now in nature. I love that color, and I love sugar snap peas! I filled a bag of them along with some herbs and headed home.

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Now I am sure most people eat raw sugar snap peas in a veggie and dip platter. I too have enjoyed them like that, but to limit them in this single way is a bit offensive. There are a multitude of ways to serve a sugar snap pea. I like to toss them into stews and stir-fries, I snack on them raw, and I have on occasion thinly sliced them and tossed them in a chopped salad. But my most favorite way to make them is quickly sauté them in a bit of olive oil. Just enough so that the outside of the sugar snap pea sears, but it’s texture keeps it’s integrity.

Now you can serve the sugar snap peas just like this, or you can compliment them. Seasoning and pairing food with other items from the same growing season is not only your safest bet, but a beautiful one. So with these sugar snap peas, I tossed them with some herb oil I made from herbs that were fresh from a nearby farm and really bright in flavor. The handful of chives, parsley, dill, and marjoram that I finely chopped and tossed in some olive oil will brighten up any dish. As the sugar snap peas were done searing I added a bit of the fresh herb oil to the pan and tossed it all together.  I then dropped in a few spoonfuls of fresh ricotta cheese and sprinkled it with sea salt to taste before I served it up. It tasted bright — just like spring was popping in your mouth. We ate it as a little appetizer just before dinner was ready; but this serves up just as well as a side dish too. Give it a try and see what spring tastes like. I hope I can still get some sugar snap peas that are as plump and fresh like these were. This was so tasty I would love another serving.

Spring Herb Sugar Snap Peas (serves 2 – 4)

3 – 4 cups sugar snap peas, trimmed

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup (packed) fresh herbs (I used a mix of parsley, dill, chives, and marjoram)

1/4 cup fresh ricotta

sea salt to taste

First, place your herbs on a cutting board and roughly, yet finely chop your herbs. Place them in a bowl and pour about 1/4 – 1/3 cup of olive oil over it and stir well. Set is aside.

Next, heat a large sauté pan over high heat. Once heated through add in about 2 – 3 tbsp of olive oil. Once the olive oil is heated through toss in your sugar snap peas. Let them sizzle and sear a bit. Give them a gentle toss until all the sugar snap peas are gently seared and heated through. (About 5 minutes.)

Then, remove from the heat and spoon a bit of the herb oil over your sugar snap peas at a time. Toss them gently until they are all well coated together. Once the herb oil is coating the sugar snap peas add your ricotta a small spoonful at a time.

Finally, place the sugar snap peas on your serving platter carefully without breaking up the ricotta too much. Sprinkle it with sea salt to taste and serve.

 

Margarita Tart

“Do you like it here? I mean, don’t you miss the sunshine and warmth of Phoenix?” This is something that I have been asked lately. Funny how that is. Maybe it is because we have experienced an umpteenth cloudy and rain filled days. I have been asked this multiple times in the last two months. It is usually followed up with, “Do you think you will ever go into business again for yourself?” I am coming upon my sixth anniversary of moving here and these two question seem like they are on repeat in my life right now.

Rainy and damp city streets of Seattle

Rainy and damp city streets of Seattle

I can quickly answered both of those questions. First: No, I do not miss the sunshine of Phoenix or the dry air. I truly enjoy experiencing the mild changing of seasons we posses here. I find living near the water, mountains, trees, and city life in Seattle extremely refreshing. The rain only makes me appreciate the bounty that grows here, not to mention it makes me look forard to the sunshine and beautiful days here to come. Second: I do not have any desire to go into business for myself ever again. I enjoy going to work, and coming home. I like having two separate spaces in my life. When I owned my own bakery and catering business it seemed as though they were never two separate things (work / personal life) I ate, slept, dreamed, breathed, and lived my business. They were never two separate things and it was hard to decompress, relax, and was inhabiting my health. Starting over again here in Seattle after closing it all was hard (and a bit depressing I will admit), but I slept a sound and peaceful full night for the first time in years after I moved here.

Although, with these questions about my life and business in Phoenix have made me miss some things. I miss the friends we made there. In the past six years many of them have experienced milestones that I hate missing and not being a part of. All of these questions about the business have made me reflect on many of the recipes I made daily at my bakery. Some I could care less to ever make again, some carry stigma / tension that I do not want to revisit, and some are fun to make on a rare occasion. Something… like a Margarita Tart.

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I designed this recipe after a friend from New Jersey referred to our move to Phoenix as “moving to the land of margaritas”! This tart has a crunchy, all butter crust, with a lime and tequila curd laying over it. The rim of the crust gets salted like the rim of a margarita glass, and I always garnished the tart with a fresh slice of lime. To some the whole concept of this dessert may have seemed strange, but from the many who would try it fell in love with it. This dessert cures the sweet / sour caving that many have and I’m sure the salted rim may seem out of place in a dessert to many, but in this case it rounds out the flavor and really finishes this dessert well. I made this tart last week. It was a good reflection of everything we have experienced and where we came from. In some ways it reminded me who I was. Sometimes a good drink or sweet is all you need for that. In this case it is a combination of them both.

Slice of Margarita Tart

Slice of Margarita Tart

Margarita Tart (Feeds 8+)

-Makes one 9 inch tart-

Curd

1/2 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed

1/4 cup tequila

7 yolks

1 cup sugar

6 oz butter (unsalted), cold and cut into 3 – 4 pieces

zest of 2 limes, finely grated

Sea Salt for trimming the rim

1 whole lime slice for garnish

1 fully baked tart crust (recipe follows)

First; place your yolks and sugar in a pan (at least 8 inches in diameter) and whisk it well and smooth. Pour in the lime juice and tequila and whisk it together until incorporated.

Next; place the butter into the mixture and place the whole thing over medium to low heat. Stirring it constantly with a silicon spatula scraping the bottom and sides of the pan while doing so. You will notice that you butter will slowly melt into you mixture, and then you will see your mixture start to thicken. Once it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and leaves a trail in the pan while stirring  you are done.

Then; remove the pot from the stove and strain the mixture though a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Discard any solids that would not pass through the mesh strainer. Stir in the lime zest into the lime and tequila curd until well combined. Pour the curd into your baked tart crust. Shake gently to be sure it is well distributed and place in the refrigerator to chill and set. (At least 1 hour but over night works well too.)

Finally; remove the tart from the tart pan carefully. Place on the platter or plate that you wish to serve it on. Sprinkle the edge of your tart with the sea salt much like the rim of a margarita glass would be coated. Place your lime slice to garnish as you wish and serve, Serve chilled. Will last for up to 3 days, if kept refrigerated.

Crust

1 1/4 cup flour

1 tsp of sugar

pinch of sea salt

1/2 cup butter, cut into small pieces and placed in freezer for at least 20 minutes before using

1/4 cup ice water (more or less)

First; place the flour, sugar, and sea salt in the base of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment.

Next; place the well chilled butter chunks over the flour mixture and pulse your blade until the butter is chopped into very fine pieces. Once that is achieved add your ice water a tablespoon at a time with the blade running until the dough seems to come together. It should hold together tightly when pinched – that is how you know it ready. I always test after 2 tablespoons of water have been incorporated.

Then; roll the dough into a ball and on a well floured surface roll out your dough to about 1/4 inch thick keeping it round in shape. Place the rolled out dough into your 9 inch tart pan. Press it into place (carefully paying attention and pressing to the corner of the rim of your pan to keep an angle) and trim your edges as needed with a sharp knife. Dock the dough several times with a fork and place the entire dough and pan into the freezer to chill and set. About an hour.

Finally; preheat your oven to 375 degrees. When heated place your chilled dough lined tart pan on a sheet pan. Line the tart crust with parchment paper (I let mine over hang the sides by at least and inch) and fill with pie weights (I use dried beans or rice I do not want to use for cooking). This is to hold your parchment down and keep your crust from puffing while baking.  Bake about 30 – 40 minutes before removing from the oven. Gently remove the parchment with your weights off the dough and place the tart dough back in the oven for another 20 minutes or more. You are looking for the crust to have a deeply golden color. Remove from oven and let cool completely before continuing.

 

Shepherd’s Pie

Brian has had to do a bit of traveling lately. So there have been lots of simple veggie meals along with lots of peas being consumed (Since Brian despises peas so much I take advantage when he is gone!). Also, now that the days of rain are fewer I have been trying to get back into my urban hikes. I power walk across Belltown, through downtown, and wrap around in Pioneer Square before heading back home. Depending of the day it results in four miles, give or take, with lots of hills and stairs being concurred depending on my mood.

All that walking works up an appetite. With my hungry tummy, Brian home for a while, and St. Patty’s Day upon us, I thought an appropriate meal was deserved. I decided the perfect meal for such an occasion was a Shepherd’s Pie. A hearty one; with a layer of lamb, covered by a layer of veggies, and topped with mashed potatoes.

Each layer of the Shepherd's Pie before it went into the oven.

Each layer of the Shepherd’s Pie before it went into the oven.

The first time I ever had Shepherd’s Pie, believe it or not, was when I was away at college. It was sometimes offered as entree option for dinner. Growing up in an Italian American home this was something I never heard of or saw before. I gave it a try one night while being bored with my other options, and to my surprise is was quite tasty. I can remember being home at the holidays and at a family gathering and telling my aunts I tried it and thought it was good. My Aunt Mary Beth told me it was one of her favorites! (My Aunt Mary Beth is married to my father’s brother, and comes from a very large and fun loving Irish family.) She said she made it often as it was her father’s favorite dish. We bonded as my aunt told me the different ways to make Shepherd’s Pie.

Fast forward to about a year or so ago. I realized that I never really made a Shepherd’s Pie on my own. So I emailed my Aunt Mary Beth asking if she could tell me how she likes it best, and if she could share any tips. She wrote me back right away explaining how simple it was. She (and her dad she explained) liked it best with lots of Worcestershire Sauce to coat the lamb. She also said you can use any variety of veggies, but her favorite is a layer of corn between the lamb and potatoes. I have played around with a version of this that Brian has become fond of. I too use lots of Worcestershire Sauce, and mix corn in with other veggies. So, for St. Patty’s Day this year we feasted on a homemade Shepherd’s Pie! Of course I made a veggie one for myself that was lovely, but Brian’s lamb version made him giddy like a child. As he ate it he said, “This dish make me feel so special…I need to savor it all!” If you ask me, he made my Aunt Mary Beth proud, and without question it looked far better than that cafeteria version I first tasted!

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Shepherd’s Pie (Feeds 4 – 6)

**Note: this is a dish that can easily be prepped a head of time / a day or two in advance and holds nicely in the refrigerator for two days, and bake when ready to eat. 

 

1 lb lamb stew meat, cut into 1 inch pieces

1/4 cup butter

1 cup onion, chopped small

1/2 cup Worcestershire Sauce

1 cup corn kernels, canned or frozen

1 cup broccoli florets, fresh or frozen

1 – 1 1/2 lb yukon gold potatoes

1/4 cup of milk

3/4 cup of shredded Irish cheddar cheese

Sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

First, place a large frying pan, or salute pan over medium heat. Melt your butter, and once melted add you onion. Let it simmer, stirring ti occasionally until it is softened; about 5 minutes. Add your lamb and let it sear on all sides, stirring it every so often.

Meanwhile, place your potatoes in a large pot. Cover the potatoes with salted water by at least 2 inches. Place it over high heat and bring to a boil. Boil the potatoes until easily pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes and let them cool a bit.

Next, add your Worcestershire Sauce over your lamb and stir well. Season it with a bit of fresh black pepper and let it simmer together, stirring it occasionally. It should simmer about 20 – 30 minutes  before removing it from the heat. Place the lamb with it’s onions and liquid in the bottom of a 9 inch pie plate and set aside.

Then. place the potatoes in a bowl and add the butter and mash to your liking…with a masher, ricer, food mill, or electric mixer. Once potatoes are mashed add in the milk and 1/2 a cup of the cheese. stir it all together and season it to your liking with sea salt and fresh black pepper. Over the lamb scatter the corn and broccoli evenly. Top your veggies with the mashed potatoes. gently spread it over the top to cover the whole pie plate, without pressing the mashed potatoes down into the layers. sprinkle the top of it all with the remainder of your cheese. (**Note: If reserving this for another day wrap the plate tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator before the following step.) 

Finally, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cover your Pie plate with foil and place on a baking sheet. When oven is heated place the plate int eh oven for about 20 minutes (35 if plate was refrigerated first) and then uncover foil. leave in the oven for another 15 – 20 minutes. You want to see the liquid around the lamb bubbling up and around the dish and the cheese should be melted and starting to brown across the top. Remove from oven and let it sit about 10 minutes before serving.

 

Seafood Chowder

Winter is drawing near it’s end and there are bits of spring starting to show here in Seattle. According to my husband, his mother is known for saying that crocus are the first sign of spring. But here in the Pacific Northwest we seem to skip right over the crocus and daffodils pop up in every crevice imaginable. They are in flower boxes, street corners, pea patches, flower beds, the base of trees, and so on.

Daffodils I admired through a window. Looking out at the rooftop at Pike Place Market.

Daffodils I admired through a window. Looking out at the rooftop at Pike Place Market.

The daffodils are like yellow blankets that have been tossed about and lay gently across the city. The temperature may still hold a chill, there are more than a few rain clouds than we care for; but these cheery fleck of vibrant color are a reminder that sunshine and warmth are near. By a stroke of luck the other day, the clouds parted and I went for a walk though downtown. When an opportunity like this strikes you need to jump on it. Patch upon patch of cheery yellow greeted me along the way. These flowers look and feel like joy and I look forward to it each year living here.

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Even with these pretty flowers showing up the days of sunshine are still few in between grey clouds, and chilly wind. As much as I want to be eating asparagus, English peas, rhubarb, and morels (all foods I look forward to in early spring); these items are just not ready yet. Dam those daffodils….they have me feeling spring is here. A dinner of something hearty and warm is still needed. I ran through the market after work going from one vender to another. I stopped to get a bit of produce, some bacon, fish stock, and a bunch of fish. Seafood Chowder was on my mind. Spring is not here yet, but chowder weather is what it feel like. Many may feel that making a chowder is complicated. But to be honest I spent more time chopping and prepping all the ingredients than actually cooking it all. Dinner was served as the rain came back and was tapping on our windows.  Spring I hope your sun shinny days are hear soon. In the meantime this delicious chowder will keep you warm, and I will keep gazing at the daffodils and dreaming you are hear soon!

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Seafood Chowder (feeds 6-8)

4 bacon slices, chopped

1 large onion, chopped into bite size pieces

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 bunch of kale, trimmed and chopped small

1 quart of fish stock

1 lb cod filet, chopped into bite size pieces

1 lb bay scallops, rinsed and trimmed if needed

1 10oz can clams, drained

3/4 cup heavy cream

2 tbsp ground red pepper

sea salt and black pepper to taste

Olive oil, as needed

1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped (plus more for garnish)

crusty beard for serving (sourdough works well with this)

First, place a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. When pot is heated through add you bacon and render, stirring every so often to keep it from sticking. After bacon renders for about 5 minutes add you onion and stir well. If your onion seem to stick you can add a bit of olive oil, 1 tbsp at a time, to be sure it is all coated and not sticking.

Next,After the onion simmers about 5 minutes add you sweet potato and kale. Stir well and sprinkle with your red pepper, a bit of sea salt and black pepper. let it all simmer together about 5 minutes. Stirring often.

Then, add your fish stock and stir well. Let it all simmer together. I placed my lid to the pot on, left slightly ajar. Once all had simmered and your sweet potatoes are tender you can add in your cod, scallops, and clams. stir well and watch until pot comes to a simmer again. Once your pot is simmering add in your cream and stir well. Once your cod and scallops look opaque you can turn your heat off.

Finally, stir in you dill and taste to adjust seasoning. We found more black pepper was needed than sea salt, but that is why you need to taste and adjust to your liking. Serve while hot with your bread and extra dill for others to add. Enjoy.

Great Friendship, and a Baked Brie with Caramelized Onions

We first met our friend Shaun back in 2000 in the midst of planning our wedding, moving across the country, starting new jobs, and pretty much starting a new life for ourselves. Brian interviewed Shaun for a job while in New Jersey. He told him you can have the job, but the job is in Phoenix. Shaun was very young and had freshly finished the Art Institute of Philadelphia. He accepted the position, packed up his belongings, and off he went to Phoenix with Brian. I followed a few months later after tying up things in New Jersey.

Shaun and I at my culinary school graduation

As we all started our lives in Phoenix a great friendship grew. We hung out together a lot, spent holidays with each other, and Shaun even came back to New Jersey to attend our wedding. He has helped us move into our first home and as far as I can remember he was always there for us. Shawn was also there for what I like to consider my cooking revolution, and was a taste tester for many dishes, some better than others I will admit. But he was always there, always asking me questions about how I made it, and asked me lots of advice for cooking on his own.

I can remember Shaun hanging out with us one evening and telling us he had to go and meet a girl! This “girl” was not just any girl. This girl – Erika, is now his wife and they have a beautiful marriage with two adorable little girls of their own. In many ways it was like Brian and I had front row seats to Shaun coming into his own and the life he created with Erka. We loved every minute of it. I was more than thrilled when they asked me to make their wedding cake, and when they had their first child I cannot forget the look on Brian’s face as he held their baby girl in his arms. When we left their hospital room Brian said to me, “I couldn’t be more proud. They are going to be great parents.”

Layering the caramelized onions in-between the brie.

Layering the caramelized onions in-between the brie.

I know Shaun has turned into a confident cook himself, yet I know Shaun has a favorite item that I make. I frequently made it for him for special occasions like his birthday or just a dinner with the four of us. It is a baked puff pastry wrapped brie stuffed with caramelized onion. I’ve made it for him many times over the years, but come to think of it, I do not think I have made it since we moved to Seattle. I have been missing this recipe just like I am missing Shaun, Erika, and their girls. They have moved on from Phoenix too, now living in the Los Angeles area. I think it is time Brian and I do a road trip to visit them. I would make this Brie too if they wanted. There are many friends that come and go in life. These people are not just friends, to us they are a part of our family. I think that the only way this brie would taste better is if I had them with us to share it with. Ill keep my fingers crossed that the next time we make it we are eating it together.

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Baked Brie stuffed with Caramelized Onions (served 4 +)

***Note: You can easily make this recipe with a larger brie if you wish to feed more people. I usually double up on my finning when doing so. I have also made more than one of the smaller ones when serving a crowd. While one is out on the table, I keep the other one in the oven to stay warm and then replenish for the crowd when needed.

1 brie wheel,  (double of triple cream)

1 medium onion, trimmed and cut into thin even strips

2 tbsp butter

1/4 tsp dried thyme

1 cup of white wine (I usually use chardonnay)

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

1 package of frozen puff pastry dough (thawed)

flour, for dusting

1 egg, well beaten for an egg wash

First, be sure the package of puff pastry is well thawed out. Check the package for instructions.

Meanwhile, place a heavy bottomed saute pan over medium heat. Once heated through, melt you butter and then place your onions. Keeping the pan over medium to low heat let the onions slowly simmer and caramelize. Stirring them frequently.

Next, after the onions have simmered for a bit sprinkle them with a bit of sea salt, black pepper, and thyme. Continue to let them simmer, still stirring them every so frequently. You are looking for the onions to brown, and deepen in color. It may take quite a while (about 30 minutes – 1 hour) depending on how thickly they were sliced. Once the onions are soft, browned, and taste sweet. Pour in your wine to deglaze. Let it all simmer and sizzle together, constantly string. You are looking to pick up the brown bits stuck to the pan at this time – that is where a lot of flavor lays! Set it aside to cool. Also, preheat your oven to 400 degrees

Then, once the onions are deglazed and the liquid has reduced down remove from the heat and let cool. On a lightly floured surface, gently roll out your puff pastry dough a bit. On a cutting board carefully cut your brie width wise, place your cooled caramelized onion on the cut side of the brie. Spread the onions evenly across the brie. Place the other 1/2 of your brie over the top of it, cut side down, and gently press it all together…it should look like a sandwich. Place brie and onions on the puff pastry dough. Placing the brie in the center of the dough. Fold the dough up and over the brie, you are looking to gather it together, and brushing it with your egg wash to hold it all together.

Puff pastry wrapped brie befor the oven.

Puff pastry wrapped brie befor the oven.

Finally, place the wrapped brie seam side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush it all over with you egg wash. If you like you can decorate the top of your pastry with cut pieces of extra dough you cut away; or sprinkle it with a bit of sea salt, black pepper. Place in the center of the oven and bake until the puff dough has risen, and turned deeply golden in hue. Remove from the oven and let rest fifteen minutes before serving. Enjoy while still warm.

Brie - stuffed, wrapped, baked, fresh out of the oven.

Brie – stuffed, wrapped, baked, fresh out of the oven.

Almond Poppyseed Loaf

Let me be upfront here. Yes, I am a pastry chef. So, yes, I do spend my days melting chocolate, baking off cookies, crafting desserts, and producing sweet sauces; but I am not always baking and making sweets at home. Although, if you do look at my last few blog posts it may seem as though that is all I have been doing. Bananas Foster, Grapefruit Bunt Cake, Calas … Trust me there have been lots of savory natured things in between all of these.

Yet, once again this post is of the sweet persuasion; but not tooth achingly sweet. This is just the right amount of sugary – almond – cake – loaf goodness. An Almond Poppyseed Loaf, to be exact. I was inspired to make this because of our most recent trip to New Jersey. While we were there I had this huge craving for a poppyseed cake. It is a very eastern european item and while growing up in Garfield, N.J. there were two different Polish bakeries we frequented that made them. The bakery version is more like a very sweet bread-like item that beholds a very moist poppy seed / almond flavored filling. One of the bakeries made it in a swirl, and the other made it like a stuffed loaf. I always loved it, and I can recall many evenings as a child sitting with my family snacking on this cake with tea while the adults talked.

Almond Poppyseed Loaf

Almond Poppyseed Loaf

When I was last in New Jersey I went to four different bakeries in search of a Poppyseed Cake. The first bakery was closed! The next bakery said they didn’t make any that day. The bakery after that one was closed too! (It was a Monday.) So I went into the Polish market around the corner from my parents home…no luck there either! I even wandered the isles looking for some sort of poppy seed / almond flavored like ingredients. My thought was if I could get my hands on anything like the filling I could attempt to make it on my own. I could not find any, just walked out of there with some kielbasa for my father-in-law and a beet salad for my husband and I to share. As we walked out I walked next door to a tiny bakery with only two cases. And there it was! Happily I purchased the cake and took it to my in-law’s home to share.

Low and behold this cake was a big disappointment! It was dense, had bits of candied citrus in it, and it possessed a very dry texture. It was totally missing the light and airy sweet bread with that moist gush of poppyseed and almond goodness. I nearly teared when I ate my slice. I was leaving the following day, there would be no poppyseed cake until my next visit back – but only if I am luckier than I was on this trip! While I was back home in Seattle I kept thinking about the flavors of that cake. I have to do a bit of research still on a recipe to master anything like the cake of my memory, but in the present I will have to settle on the Almond Poppyseed Loaf I created. The flavor profile hit very close to home, and the loaf had the loveliest texture and chew to it. I will admit I had two slices and another one the next day. I am grateful that Brian brought the remainder of this loaf in for his coworkers to try or I could have easily sat down and finished it while watching a Netflix marathon of any kind! I will report back in the future on a Poppyseed Cake, in the meantime this Almond Poppyseed Loaf will behold my heart.

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Almond Poppyseed Loaf (Makes one 8 inch loaf)

8 oz butter, cut into small cubes, plus extra for greasing your pan

3 large eggs plus 3 large yolks

2 tsp Vanilla extract

1 3/4 cup flour, plus extra for flouring pan

1/2  tsp sea salt

2 tbsp poppyseed

1 1/4 cup sugar

7 oz almond paste, broken up into chunks

1/4-1/3 cup sliced almonds, optional

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease you loaf pan well and line it with parchment paper (I like to lay a long enough sheet of parchment paper into the pan so it covers the bottom of the pan, the sides, and has a bit of an overhang. This will help you lift the loaf out of the pan easily once it is cooled.) Flour the sides of the pan that is exposed.

Next, in the base of a food processor place your sugar and your almond paste and pulse until the almond paste is broken down and evenly distributed amongst the sugar.You want to be sure the almond paste is no longer in clumps, and as finely broken down as the sugar is. Also in a bowl whisk together your flour, sea salt, and poppyseed.

Then, in the bowl of a mixer place your butter along with your almond sugar mixture. Mix this until it is well combined and fluffy. Add the eggs and the yolk one at a time. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl while doing so. Once it is mixed cohesively and smooth, gently stir in the flour mixture. Mix until it is blended – but no further.

Finally, pour the batter into your prepared pan. Sprinkle the sliced almonds evenly over the top if using. Place on a sheet tray and then place in the center of your oven. Bake about an hour, rotating it half way though. Be sure to test the cake after an hour. This is a very rich and dense loaf, so you want to be sure that a tooth pick comes out clean once it is inserted for testing. Mine baked for about an hour and fifteen minutes, but it can vary from oven to oven. Remove from oven and let cool an hour before removing it from the pan. Slice and serve once cool but at room temperature. (Will store at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, for up to four days.)

 

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